Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Six weeks ago, there was order and routine in the life of new Greenville resident Ben Blackmon.
He was an assistant football coach at powerful Opelika High School, a Class 6A power that won 12 and lost 2 games last season, earning a spot in the state playoffs, losing only to Prattville and even sniffing at a possible state championship.
He coached quarterbacks there, had just competed spring training and was elated the team would be strong again, deeply talented and led, possibly, by 4-5 stars likely destined to play collegiately on Saturdays.
He and his pretty wife, Misty, had capped their marriage with the birth of Elle Caroline, an adorable little girl capable of wrapping her dad around the tiniest of her fingers. They owned a house, were regular members of First Baptist Church, had a tight circle of friends and seemed secure in all the trappings of a young, successful life, one destined for even better days.
His future, though admittedly uncertain, was anything but shaky.
He toiled under the watchful eye of legendary Spence McCracken, the onetime Lee of Montgomery and Auburn University star now in his 12th year at Opelika and successful enough in the closing years of a remarkable career to have already been inducted in the state high school Hall of Fame.
He was one retirement decision away from having to make his own dicey career path move.
Should McCracken step down at the end of next season, as is rumored, Blackmon's brother, Brian, the assistant principal and assistant head coach there, would likely be named the new head coach, leaving his younger sibling with an either/or proposition.
Stay as an assistant under his brother. Explore options elsewhere.
It is, as Greenville High fans well know, a decision he never made.
Bryan Vincent changed all that, shocking Tiger faithful, capitalizing on an almost miraculous single season turnaround in leading Greenville from a 1-9 record in 2005 to a 10-3 mark in 2006 that included a state playoff berth for hungry, happy followers and a coach of the year award for him.
His late acceptance of one of those “can't refuse” offers to build anew the program at Spanish Fort, unexpectedly opened a door of opportunity for Blackmon.
Butler County Superintendent Mike Looney called. He answered. They agreed.
The decision to assume Greenville's suddenly appealing head football and athletic director's post turned the 29-year-old coach's life upside down, ripping away the details that created the cocoon-like comfort zone that provided the order, routine and consistency.
He had a job. He had an office.
But he would have to build a staff, watch film instead of conducting the spring training he missed, implement his own offensive and defensive schemes for players he had never met, deal with a schedule that includes 5 teams that earned playoff status just a year ago and meet passionate “win ‘em all” expectations of concerned followers even though his touted senior quarterback sought greener pastures before he ever arrived.
In his spare time, he needed to sell his home, locate a new house, move his family, find a church, prepare for the birth of a second child and address all those other responsibilities that normally demand time, patience, perseverance and luck.
That he has been busy is the classic understatement. That all details have been settled remains only a dream. That all issues have solutions and all questions have answers is but a vanishing hope.
Besides, it no longer matters.
On Monday, when Alabama High School Athletic Association guidelines allow, head coach Ben Blackmon takes charge of his first team, officially. Following three days in mandatory shorts for conditioning, the Tigers add full gear and under a boiling, searing sun, will begin serious preparation for the Battle of Butler County opener against Georgiana less than a month away.
The new leader admits a twinge of anxiety might accompany that first blowing whistle, but he figures he, his staff and his team are as ready as they can be for the challenge, eager to stamp their own brand of winning on a school history deep in heritage and tradition.
They are, of course, undefeated.
Quality talent remains. Injuries are sparse. Optimism is high, enthusiasm apparent. Fans and supporters are ready. Thus, the season and the game that engulfs a community, begin.
Blackmon shares all of that excitement. If victories quickly become part of his new sense of normalcy, the hectic pace of recent weeks will make the abrupt changes worthwhile.
Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers LLC. Contact him at 382-3111 or ed.darling@greenvilleadcovate and read his previous columns at www.greenvilleadvocate.com.